NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Health Disparities Across Education: The Role of Differential Reporting Error

John Cawley, Anna Choi

NBER Working Paper No. 21317
Issued in July 2015, Revised in September 2017
NBER Program(s):ED, HC, HE

One of the most robust findings in health economics is that higher-educated individuals tend to be in better health. This paper tests whether health disparities across education are to some extent due to differences in reporting error across education. We test this hypothesis using data from the pooled National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Continuous for 1999-2012, which include both self-reports and objective verification for an extensive set of health behaviors and conditions, including smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

We find that college graduates are more likely to give false negative reports of obesity and high total cholesterol; one possible explanation for this is social desirability bias. However, college graduates are also significantly less likely to give false positive reports of smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Because there are far more truly negative people (who are less likely to give a false positive report) than truly positive people (who are more likely to give a false negative report), we find that college graduates report their health significantly more accurately overall.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21317

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